Russia at the Barricades: Eyewitness Accounts of the August 1991 Coup

By Victoria E. Bonnell; Ann Cooper et al. | Go to book overview

1
THERESA SABONIS-CHAFEE Reflections from the Barricades

Theresa Sabonis-Chafee, then a graduate student in International Relations at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy at Princeton University, was in Moscow when the coup took place in August 1991. She had arrived there in January 1991 to work at the World Laboratory, an international science policy organization.

It occurred to me on the metro at 12:15 A.M. that I did not really know what I was doing, that I was likely to be deported, and that my Russian-language skills (which had been nonexistent seven months earlier) could charitably be described as "poor," but I resolved not to think about it too much. I am a student of international relations, a teacher of Soviet history, and a tax-paying resident of Moscow, I reminded myself. How could I do anything else? As my train sped toward the center of town, closer to the home of the government, I reflected on the day's events so far.

I had awakened early and traveled nearly two hours to my Russian teacher's summer home, as I had done several times a week for the past few months. The village was still and nervous, and radios could be heard from every front yard. I noticed it was not the usual program, but was unaware of the Soviet tradition of playing solemn classics when a head of state or important official has died. I was later told that the music usually continues for hours or even days before it is supplemented with information. This time, however, the information had been released promptly. My teacher, Natalia, was startled to see me. "Oh, Terry," she said, "you didn't listen to the news this morning." Then, as she prepared breakfast, she slowly explained what had happened. We ate a tense meal, listening to the radio announcer. In a funereal voice, he was reading the same brief statement that had been

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